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Rapid Review: Pairing Bentley's latest additions to the GT family

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When we last left the Bentley Continental GT 18 months ago it was a comfortable, if not overtly thrilling car. Just because you have 567 horsepower and a twin-turbocharged W-12 engine under the hood of your carriage doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be giddy as a schoolgirl every time you step out of it.

Fortunately Bentley has been busy in the ensuing months. The U.K.-based automaker has churned out a pair of Continental GTs that riff on the original car’s MO.

A GT V8 model takes the car slightly down-market with a new engine choice for the Continental line, and gives Bentley a smidge of breathing room in terms of its models’ fuel economy.

PHOTOS: Testing Bentley's GT V8 and GTC Speed

Meanwhile, the GT Speed manages to wring out even more power, exclusivity and money from a car that already involves piles of each.

The added models should help Bentley’s upward sales trajectory. Sales for the brand’s first six months of 2013 are up 9% over the same period in 2012, and the U.S. is Bentley’s biggest market.

In July the company also announced a product that is perhaps the biggest departure yet from the brand’s heritage: an SUV. This yet-to-be-named vehicle will likely use the same drivetrain as the regular Continental GT, and may share a platform with a possible Lamborghini SUV and others in the Volkswagen Group’s stable. Bentley has also promised that it will be the world’s most powerful SUV when it hits the market in 2016.

In the meantime, Bentley will use the trio of Continental GTs, the recently-updated Flying Spur (consider it a four-door Continental), and the patrician-oriented Mulsanne sedan to keep sales climbing.

Though entry-level is hardly an appropriate term for a coupe that starts at $176,725, the all-new Continental GT V8 is technically that, as it’s the least expensive way to put a new Bentley in the driveway of your villa.

This model replaces the W-12 motor in the regular GT with a 4.0-liter, twin turbocharged V-8 that makes 500 horsepower and 487 pound-feet of torque. The transmission also adds two gears for a total of eight. The V-8 model will do zero-60 mph in 4.6 seconds, just 0.3 seconds off the time of the standard-issue Continental GT.

The irony of buying the cheapest model is it’s undoubtedly the most fun to drive. A lighter curb weight helps, though the V8 model sheds only about 50 pounds from the regular GT. But since most of those weight savings come from a smaller engine up front, the V8 model has better weight balance.

With a lighter nose, the car is quicker and easier to point and shoot, giving it a livelier feel than the regular GT. Though still all-wheel-drive, this car pushes with less understeer that makes the car feel more direct in your hands. A louder and more throaty exhaust note adds to the satisfaction of burying the throttle, as do quicker shifts from the transmission.

This engine is also an efficiency play, enough of one to at least duck under the gas guzzler tax. Built into its abilities are direct-injection and cylinder deactivation. This helps the V8 model’s rating of 15 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.

During our testing, which had more highway miles than city, we average 19.5 mpg. Not bad for a 500-horsepower car that weighs as much as your average Panzer tank.

Aesthetically, the V8 varies only slightly from the W-12 models. The grille is painted a gloss black, the lower portion of the front bumper has been revised, tailpipes are now two sets of two, and the Bentley badge has a red background.

As mentioned, the GT V8 starts at $176,725. Our tester then rang that number up to $201,490 with the help of options that any reasonable person might expect to be standard on a $75,000 Audi.

This included a $12,230 Mulliner package (21-inch wheels, jeweled fuel filler cap, leather everywhere inside, etc.), adaptive cruise control, backup camera, power liftgate, heated steering wheel. We would regret omitting a gorgeous $4,305 coat of Violette paint that would have made Georgia O’Keeffe purple with envy.

Press the people at Bentley on why a customer would even consider the more subdued -- and expensive -- W12 version of the GT and they’ll tell you they have an entire subset of customers who want the best.

This is regardless of whether that means less visceral fun and enjoyment, which it certainly does when it come to the GT lineup. Their loss; the V8 is absolutely the best way to get around in a Bentley.

A close second is the other addition to the GT line. For Bentley Continental buyers who will not equivocate on having the best, Bentley introduced the GT Speed for 2014 . This model has the same 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged W-12 engine, but the boost has been cranked up for more power.

The GT Speed pumps out 616 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. A zero-60 mph time of 4 seconds flat is standard, 100 mph flies by in nine seconds, and top speed is 205 mph, according to Bentley. These numbers are aided by the fact that the GT Speed gains nary a pound over the curb weight of the regular GT.

The ride height on the GT Speed is 10 millimeters lower, and the suspension has been stiffened and retuned for sharper performance. The exhaust system has been tweaked to kick out a deeper, richer note when the car is in Sport mode.

The Speed’s transmission is eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters and a Sport mode. Bentley says this gearbox can also "block shift" by dropping multiple gears in the same downshift, to maximize power during hard acceleration.

This is one thing the Speed excels at; it will thunder down an unbending stretch of road like an angry deity with just as much wrath reserved for the person who gets in its way.

Like its V-8 little brother, the GT Speed manages to feel more spirited than the average GT, but in a more brute-force way. While it’s not as nimble as the V8, you can use the extravagant power easier. Meanwhile, the retuned suspension crispens the car’s responsiveness and gives the driver more feel of the road than previously.

Still, all things are relative. If you’re buying a car whose manufacturer is kind enough to include GT in the very name, don’t expect a sports car. These models -- all of them -- are for eating up massive amounts of sublimely paved roads because the air is too thin to land your helicopter.

The Speed model we tested was the convertible variant, which starts at $244,425, including destination and gas guzzler tax. Another $28,000 was spent on options like carbon ceramic brakes, a Naim audio system, adaptive cruise control and massing heated and cooled seats with air vents to heat your neck.

For some Bentley customers, the Speed’s price difference over the regular GT is irrelevant. They want the best, and this is as good as it gets in coupe form from Bentley. Officially. Their smug satisfaction will be topped only by the guy down the street in his GT V8.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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